Yellow Card Soccer Rule: Laws of the Game

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

What is a yellow card in soccer? In the world of soccer, usually referred to as the beautiful game, every single kick, pass, and decision can change the outcome of the match.

Among those many important factors, the yellow card is one of the main soccer rules that can change the entire course of a game. The main job of the referee is to reinforce the laws of the game, ensure fair play, and show players disciplinary actions for fouls and offenses by giving them either a red or yellow card.

In this blog, I will cover everything you need to know about the yellow card rule.

Yellow Card Soccer

What does a Yellow Card in Soccer Mean?

In soccer, yellow cards are like a referee’s warning shot. They are used to caution players for various offenses during a game, such as unsporting behavior, dissent, and delaying the restart of play.

Yellow cards are given for minor offenses and these warnings help maintain order and discipline within soccer matches. Two yellow cards equal one red card which means if a player is given a second yellow card in the same match, they are automatically given a red card and they must be ejected from the match.

Types of Offenses That Will Receive a Yellow Card

Yellow cards are given for minor offenses that are not serious enough for a straight red card. Here are some of the common types of offenses that will get a yellow card.

  • Violent conduct:
    • This includes serious foul play, serious offenses, dangerous play, reckless tackles, using excessive force dangerously, and offensive gestures toward other players, team officials, referees, or fans.
  • Dissent:
    • Arguing with or disrespecting match officials including the main referee and the sideline referees
  • Delaying restarts:
    • Intentional time wasting when restarting play such as during a throw in, goal kick, penalty kick, or free kick can also lead to an official yellow card warning
  • Taking off their jersey
    • If a player scores a goal and celebrates by taking off their jersey, they will also get a yellow card
  • Simulation
    • Simulation refers to diving, or when a player fakes a foul in an attempt to trick the referee.

How Referees Use Their Discretion When Issuing Yellow and Red Cards

When talking about the rules of the game it is very important to note that referees have some discretion when deciding whether or not to hand out disciplinary cards. Referees consider factors like intensity, repetition, location of the foul, and time of the match to decide if a player should get a yellow or red card.

For example, if a player commits a minor offense and they already have a yellow card, the referee may decide to not give them another yellow card, since that would lead to a red, but only if the foul was not big enough for a red.

Consequences of Accumulating Yellow Cards

Yellow cards in soccer can lead to severe consequences for players and teams. If the same player has been issued two yellow cards in the same game, they will be shown the red card and be forced to leave the field of play without finishing the remainder of the match.

In major tournaments like the FIFA World Cup, accumulated yellow cards carry over into the next games until they are wiped clean at the knockout stages. Players who accumulate two yellow cards during separate games within the same phase of a tournament face an automatic one-game suspension, and possibly other fines and consequences, depending on the severity of the offenses.

This rule applies to all significant soccer tournaments, such as those hosted by the Major League Soccer, English Premier League, and even during the prestigious FIFA World Cup

FIFA’s Fair Play Rule System

As a way to keep track of accumulated yellow and red cards, FIFA created a “fair play rule” system to promote sportsmanship and fair competition. The fair play rule assigns point deductions for yellow and red card offenses during major tournaments and competitions.

A single yellow card results in -1 point, while two yellows leading to a red card means -3 points. A direct red card carries a -4 point penalty, and more than one caution before getting sent off with another yellow-red combo will be penalized with -5 points.

These fair play points come into action when there are ties in groups of major tournaments. For example, when two or more teams finish their group stage games with equal points, goal difference, and goals scored, FIFA uses these accumulated disciplinary points as tie-breakers to determine which team moves on.

The team with fewer negative fair play points would progress ahead due to better fair play. For example, in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Group H two teams, Senegal and Japan, finished with identical points, goal difference and goals scored. However, Japan advanced to the knockout stage based on their superior fair play record since they had fewer yellow and red cards.

Origin and Adoption of Yellow Card System

The red and yellow card system was introduced by former British referee Ken Aston, who created the idea after witnessing confusion between professional players and referees during the 1966 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Argentina.

The lack of clear communication involving disciplinary actions led to misunderstandings so Aston’s innovative solution was to use colored cards to signal warnings or disciplinary actions against players committing fouls.

The yellow card is a caution for minor fouls, while the red card signifies an immediate ejection from the competition for major fouls. This simple yet effective concept has been universally adopted by FIFA across all levels of soccer.

Yellow Card Soccer

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a yellow card last in soccer?

In soccer, a yellow card only lasts one game and after the game is over the yellow card no longer has any consequences. However, if you are playing in a major tournament the yellow cards may accumulate to the next games and a second yellow card, even if it is not in the same match, will have more consequences.

How many yellow cards equal one red card?

Two yellow cards, which act as warnings, equal one red card, which means the player must be ejected from the remainder of the game.

What is the role of video assistant referee when it comes to yellow and red cards?

When the referee shows a player a yellow card, or even a second yellow card that leads to a red card, the video assistant referee is not allowed to intervene. VAR cannot review a yellow card, but it can lead to one.

How does a yellow card affect future matches?

Yellow cards can only affect future matches if it was given during a major tournament. In a regular season game the impact of the yellow card ends once the ref blows the whistle.


In conclusion, red and yellow cards are some of the most important rules of the beautiful game. Depending on the severity of a foul committed, a referee can give a player a yellow card, which acts more as a warning, or a red card, which means immediate ejection from the game.

In this blog, I covered everything you need to know about the world of the yellow card in soccer.

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